Foxe's Book of Martyrs -- 5. THE THIRD PERSECUTION UNDER TRAJAN AND HADRIAN

5. THE THIRD PERSECUTION UNDER TRAJAN AND HADRIAN

Illustration -- Rome

Between the second Roman persecution and the third was but one year, under the emperor Nerva, after whom succeeded Trajanus; and after him followed the third persecution. So the second and the third are noted of some to be both one, having no more difference but one year between them. This Trajanus, if we look well upon his politic and civil governance, might seem (in comparison of others) a right worthy and commendable prince, much familiar with inferiors, and so be having himself towards his subjects as he himself would have the prince to be to him if he himself were a subject. Also he was noted to be a great observer of justice, insomuch that when he ordained any pretor, giving to him the sword, he would bid him use the sword against his enemies in just causes; and if he himself did otherwise than justice, to use then his power against him also. But for all these virtues, toward Christian religion he was impious and cruel, who caused the third persecution of the church. In the which persecution Pliny the second, a man learned and famous, seeing the lamentable slaughter of Christians, and moved therewith to pity, wrote to Trajanus of the pitiful persecution; certifying him that there were many thousands of them daily put to death, of which none did any thing contrary to the Roman laws worthy persecution, saving that they used to gather together in the morning before day, and sing hymns to a certain God whom they worshipped, called Christ. In all other their ordinances they were godly and honest. Where by the persecution by commandment of the emperor was greatly staid and diminished. The form and copy of which epistle of Pliny, anno 107, I thought here not inconvenient to set down as followeth:

    "It is my property and manner (my sovereign) to make relation of all those things unto you wherein I doubt. For who can better either correct my slackness or instruct mine ignorance than you? I was never yet present myself at the examination and execution of these Christians; and therefore what punishment is to be administered, and how far, or how to proceed in such inquisitions, I am plain ignorant; not able to resolve in the matter whether any difference is to be had in age and person; whether the young and tender ought to be with like cruelty entreated as the elder and stronger; whether repentance may have any pardon, or whether it may profit him or not to deny which hath been a Christian; whether the name only of Christians without other offences, or whether the offences joined with the name of a Christian, ought to be punished. In the mean season, as touching such Christians as have been presented unto me, I have kept this order: I have inquired the second and third time of them whether they were Christians, menacing them with fear of punishment; and such as did persevere, I commanded to execution. For thus I thought, that whatsoever their profession was, yet their stubbornness and obstinacy ought to be punished. Whether they were also of the same madness, whom, because they were citizens of Rome, I thought to send them back again to the city. Afterward, in further process and handling of this matter, as the sect did further spread, so the more cases did thereof ensue.

    "There was a libel offered to me bearing no name, wherein were contained the names of many which denied themselves to be Christians, contented to do sacrifice with incense and wine to the gods, and to your image, (which image I for that purpose caused to be brought,) and to blaspheme Christ; whereunto none such as were true Christians indeed could be compelled, and those I did discharge and let go. Other some confessed that they had been Christians, but afterward denied the same, &c, affirming unto me the whole sum of that sect or error to consist in this, that they were wont at certain times appointed to convent before day, and to sing certain hymns to one Christ, their God, and to confederate among themselves, to abstain from all theft, murder, and adultery, to keep their faith, and to defraud no man; which done, then to depart for that time, and afterward to resort again to take meat in companies together, both men and women one with another, and yet without any act of evil.

    "In the truth whereof, to be further certified whether it were so or not, I caused two maidens to be laid on the rack, and with torments to be examined of the same. But finding no other thing in them but only lewd and immoderate superstition, I thought to cease further inquiry, till time that I might be further advertised in the matter from you; for so the matter seemed unto me worthy and needful of advisement, especially for the great number of those that were in danger of your statute. For very many there were of all ages and states, both men and women, which then were, and more are like hereafter to incur the same peril of condemnation. For that infection hath crept not only in cities, but villages also and boroughs about, which seemeth that it may be stayed and reformed. Forasmuch as we see in many places that the temples of our gods, which were wont to be desolate, begin now to be frequented, and that they bring sacrifices from every part to be sold, which before very few were found willing to buy. Whereby it may easily be conjectured what multitudes of men may be amended, if space and time be given them wherein they may be reclaimed."

    To this Trajan replied as follows: "The act and statute, my Secundus, concerning the causes of the Christians, which ye ought to follow, ye have rightly executed. For no such general law can be enacted, wherein all special cases particularly can be comprehended. Let them not be sought for; but if they be brought and convicted, then let them suffer execution: notwithstanding, whosoever shall deny himself to be a Christian, and do it unfeignedly in open audience, and do sacrifice to our gods, howsoever he hath been suspected before, let him be released upon promise of amendment. Such libels as have no names suffice not to any just crime or accusation; for that should give both an evil precedent, neither doth it agree with the example of our time."

    Tertullian writing upon this letter of Trajan above prefixed, thus saith: O sentence of a confused necessity! He would not have them to be sought for as men innocent, and yet causeth them to be punished as persons guilty. And thus the rage of that persecution ceased for a time, although notwithstanding many naughty disposed men and cruel officers there were, which upon false pretence, to accomplish their wicked minds, ceased not to afflict the Christians in divers provinces; and especially if any occasion were given never so little for the enemies to take hold of, or if any commotion were raised in the provinces abroad, by and by the fault was laid upon the Christians. As in Jerusalem, after that the emperor Trajan had sent down his commandment, that whosoever could be found of the stock of David, he should be inquired out and put to death; upon this Egesippus writing, saith that certain sectaries there were of the Jewish nation, that accused Simeon, the bishop then of Jerusalem and son of Cleophas, to come of the stock of David, and that he was a Christian. of the which his accusers it happened also (saith the said Egesippus) that certain of them likewise were apprehended and taken to be of the stock of David, and so right justly were put to execution themselves which sought the destruction of others. As concerning Simeon the blessed bishop, the aforesaid Egesippus thus writeth: that Simeon the Lord's nephew, when he was accused to Attalus the proconsul, by the malicious sect of the Jews, to be of the line of David, and to be a Christian, was scourged during the space of many days together, being of age a hundred and twenty years. In which his martyrdom he endured so constant, that both the consul and all the multitude did marvel to see him of that age so constantly to suffer; and so at last being crucified, finished his course in the Lord, for whom he suffered, as partly before also is recorded.

    In this persecution of Trajan, above specified, (which Trajan next followed after Nerva,) besides the other aforementioned, also suffered Phocas, bishop of Pontus, whom Trajan, because he would not do sacrifice to Neptune, caused to be cast into a hot lime-kiln, and afterward to be put into a scalding bath, where the constant godly martyr, in the testimony of Christ, ended his life, or rather entered into life.

    In the same persecution suffered also Sulpitius and Servilianus, two Romans; whose wives are said to be Euphrosina and Theodora, whom Sabina did convert to the faith of Christ, and after were also martyred. Of which Sabina Jacobus Philippus reporteth that, in the Mount of Aventine in Rome, she was beheaded of Clepidus the governor, in the days of Hadrian. Under whom also suffered Seraphia, a virgin of Antioch, as Hermannus witnesseth.

    The forenamed authors, Antoninus and Equilius, make mention moreover of Nereus and Achilleus, who, in this persecution of Trajan, had the crown of martyrdom, being put to death at Rome. Eusebius in his fourth book maketh mention of one Sagaris, who about the same time suffered martyrdom in Asia, Servilius Paulus being then proconsul in that province.

    In this persecution, beside many others, suffered the blessed martyr of Christ Ignatius, who unto this day is had in famous reverence among very many. This Ignatius was appointed to the bishopric of Antioch next after Peter in succession. Some do say, that he being sent from Syria to Rome, because he professed Christ, was given to the wild beasts to be devoured. It is also said of him, that when he passed through Asia, being under the most strict custody of his guarders, he strengthened and confirmed the parishes through all the cities as he went, both with his exhortations and preaching of the word of God; and admonished them especially and before all other things to beware and shun those heresies risen up and sprung newly among them, and that they should cleave and stick fast to the tradition of the apostles; which he, for their better safeguard, being about to denounce or put in writing, thought it a thing very necessary to travail in, And thus when he came to Smyrna, where Polycarp was, he wrote one epistle to the congregation of Ephesus, wherein he made mention of Onesimus their pastor; and another he wrote to the congregation of Magnesia, being at Meandre, wherein also he forgetteth not Dama their bishop. Also another he wrote to the congregation of Trallis, the governor of which city at that time he noteth to be one Polybius; unto which congregation he made an exhortation, lest they, refusing martyrdom, should lose the hope that they desired.

    But it shall be very requisite that I allege some what thereof to the declaration of this matter. He wrote, therefore, as the words lie, in this sort: From Syria, (saith he,) even till I came to Rome, had I a battle with beasts, as well by sea as land, both day and night, being bound in the midst of ten cruel libards (that is, the company or band of the soldiers) which, the more benefits that they received at my hands, became so much the worse unto me. But I, being exercised and now well acquainted with their injuries, am taught every day more and more; but hereby am I not yet justified. And would to God I were once come to the beasts which are prepared for me, which also I wish with gaping mouths were ready to come upon me, whom also I will provoke, that they without delay may devour me, and forbear me nothing at all, as those whom before they have not touched or hurt for fear. And if they will not unless they be provoked, I will then enforce them against myself. Pardon me, I pray you. How much beneficial it is to me, I know. Now begin I to be a scholar; I force or esteem no visible things, nor yet invisible, so that I may get or obtain Christ Jesus. Let the fire, the gallows, the devouring of wild beasts, the breaking of bones, the pulling asunder of my members, the bruising or pressing of my whole body, and the torments of the devil or hell itself, come upon me, so that I may win Christ Jesus.

    And these things wrote he from the foresaid city unto the congregations which we have recited. And when he was even now judged to be thrown to the beasts, he spake, for the burning desire that he had to suffer, what time he heard the lions roaring: I am the wheat or grain (saith he) of Christ, I shall be ground with the teeth of wild beasts, that I may be found pure bread. He suffered in the eleventh year of Trajan the emperor.

    Besides this godly Ignatius, many thousands also were put to death in the same persecution, as appeareth by the letter of Plinius Secundus above recited, written unto the emperor.

    Next after this Trajan succeeded Hadrian the emperor, under whom suffered Alexander the bishop of Rome, with his two deacons Euentius and Theo dorus; also Hermes and Quirinus, with their families, as late before was declared.

    It is signified, moreover, in the histories, that in the time of Hadrian, Zenon, a nobleman of Rome, with ten thousand two hundred and three, were slain for Christ. Henricus and Bergomensis make mention of ten thousand in the days of this Hadrian to be crucified in the Mount Hararath, crowned with crowns of thorn, and thrust into the sides with sharp darts, after the example of the Lord's passion, whose captains were Achaicus, Heliades, Theodorus, and Carcerius, &c. Whether this story be the same with the other above of Zenon or not, it is doubted. As touching the miracles done, and the speaking of the angel, I refer the certainty thereof to Vincentius, and such other like authors, where more things seem to be told than to be true.

    There was one Eustachius, a captain, whom Trajan in time past had sent out to war against the barbarians. After he had, by God's grace, valiantly subdued his enemies, and now was returning home with victory, Hadrian, for joy, meeting him in his journey to bring him home with triumph, by the way, first would do sacrifice to Apollo for the victory gotten, willing also Eustachius to do the same with him. But when Eustachius could by no means thereto be enforced, being brought to Rome, there with his wife and children he suffered martyrdom under the foresaid Hadrian. It were a long process here to recite all the miracles contained, or rather suspected, in this story of this Eustachius concerning his conversion and death: how the crucifix appeared to him between the horns of a hart; of the saving of his wife from the shipmen; of one of his sons saved from the lion, the other saved from the wolf; of their miraculous preservation from the wild beasts, from the torments of fire mentioned in Bergomensis, Vincentius, and others. All which, as I find them in no ancient records, so I leave them to their authors and compilers of the legends.

    We read also of Faustinus and Jobita, citizens of Lhe city of Brixia, which suffered martyrdom with like grievous torments. At the sight whereof one Galocerius, seeing their so great patience in so great torments, cried out with these words, Verily, great is the God of Christians! Which words being heard, forthwith he was apprehended, and being brought to the place of their execution, was made partaker of their martyrdom.

    The history of Nicephorus maketh mention of Anthia, a godly woman, who committed her son Eleutherius to Anicetus, bishop of Rome, to be brought up in the doctrine of Christian faith, who, afterwards being bishop in Apulia, was there beheaded with his foresaid mother Anthia.

    Justus also, and Pastor, two brethren, with like martyrdom ended their lives in a city of Spain, called Complutum, under the said Hadrian the emperor.

    Likewise Symphorissa, the wife of Getulus the martyr, with her seven children, is said about the same time to suffer; who first was much and often beaten and scourged, afterwards was hanged up by the hair of her head; at last having a huge stone fastened unto her, was thrown headlong into the river; and after that her seven children, in like manner, with sundry and divers kinds of punishment diversly martyred by the tyrant.

    The story of M. Hermannus, and Antoninus, and others, report of Sophia, with her three children also, also of Seraphia and Sabina, to suffer under the said emperor, about the year of our Lord one hundred and thirty.

    As concerning Alexander, bishop of Rome, with his two deacons, also with Hermes, Quirinus, Saphira, and Sabina, some writers, as Bede and Marianus Scotus, record that they suffered under Trajan. Others again, as Otto, Frisingensis, with like more, report that they suffered in the fourth year of this emperor Hadrian; but of these martyrs sufficiently hath been said before.

    While Hadrian the emperor was at Athens, he purposed to visit the country of Elusina, and so did; where he sacrificing to the Gentiles' gods, after the manner of the Grecians, had given free leave and liberty, whosoever would, to persecute the Christians. Whereupon Quadratus, a man of no less excellent zeal than of famous learning, being then bishop of Athens, and disciple of the apostles, or at least succeeding incontinent the age of the apostles, and following after Publius, (who a little before was martyred for the testimony of Christ,) did offer up and exhibit unto Hadrian the emperor a learned and excellent apology in the defence of the Christian religion. Wherein he declared the Christians, without all just cause or desert, to be so cruelly entreated and persecuted, &c. The like also did Aristides, another no less excellent philosopher in Athens, who for his singular learning and eloquence being notified to the emperor, and coming to his presence, there made before him an eloquent oration. Moreover, he did exhibit unto the said emperor a memorable apology for the Christians, so full of learning and eloquence, that, as Hierom saith, it was a spectacle and admiration to men in his time, that loved to see wit and learning. Over and besides these, there was also another named Serenus Granius, a man of great nobility, who likewise did write very pithy and grave letters to Hadrian the emperor, showing and declaring therein that it was consonant with no right nor reason for the blood of innocents to be given to the rage and fury of the people, and so to be condemned for no fault, only for the name and sect that they followed.

    Thus the goodness of God being moved with the prayers and constant labour of these so excellent men, so turned the heart of the emperor, that he being better informed concerning the order and profession of the Christians, became more favourable unto them; and immediately upon the same directed his letters to Minutius Fundanus, (as is partly before mentioned,) proconsul of Asia, willing him from henceforth to exercise no more such extremity against the Christians, as to condemn any of them, having no other crime objected against them but only their name. The copy of which his letter, because that Justin in his apology doth allege it, I thought therefore to express the same in his own words, as followeth.

    "I have received an epistle written unto me from Serenus Granius, our right worthy and well-beloved, whose office you do now execute. Therefore I think it not good to leave this matter without further advisement and circumspection to pass, lest our subjects be molested, and malicious sycophants boldened and supported in their evil. Wherefore if the subjects of our provinces do bring forth any accus ation before the judge against the Christians, and can prove the thing they object against them, let them do the same, and no more, and otherwise, for the name only, not to impeach them, nor to cry out against them. For so, more convenient it is, that, if any man will be an accuser, you take the accusation quietly, and judge upon the same. Therefore, if any shall accuse the Christians, and complain of them as malefactors, doing contrary to the law, then give you judgment according to the quality of the crime. But, notwithstanding, whosoever upon spite and maliciousness shall commence or cavil against them, see you correct and punish that man for his inordinate and malicious dealing."

    Thus by the merciful providence of God some more quiet and rest was given to the church, although Hermannus thinketh these halcyon days did not very long continue, but that the emperor changing his edict, began to renew again persecution of God's people; albeit this soundeth not to be so by the words of Melito in his apology to Antoninus hereafter ensuing. In the mean time this is certain, that in the days of this Hadrian the Jews rebelled again and spoiled the country of Palestina. Against whom the emperor sent Julius Severus, who overthrew in Jewry fifty castles, and burnt and destroyed nine hundred and fourscore villages and towns, and slew of the Jews fifty thousand

with famine, sickness, sword, and fire. Judah was almost desolate. But at length Hadrian the emperor, which otherwise was named Ælius, repaired and enlarged the city of Jerusalem. which was called after his name Æliopolis, or Ælia Capitolina, the inhabitance whereof he granted only to the Gentiles and to the Christians, forbidding the Jews utterly to enter into the city.

    After the death of Hadrian, who died by bleeding at the nose, succeeded Antoninus Pius, about the year of our Lord one hundred and thirty-eight, and reigned twenty and three years, who, for his clemency and modest behaviour, had the name of Pius, and is for the same in histories commended. His saying was, that he had rather save one citizen than destroy a thousand of his adversaries. At the beginning of his reign, such was the state of the church, as Hadrian his predecessor had left it, that although there was no edict set forth to persecute the Christians, yet the tumultuous rage of the heathen multitude, for the causes above specified, did not cease to disquiet and afflict the quiet people of God, imputing and ascribing to the Christians whatsoever misfortune happened contrary unto their desires; moreover, inventing against them all false crimes and contumelies whereof to accuse them. By reason whereof divers there were in sundry places much molested, and some put to death; albeit, as it is to be supposed, not by the consent of the emperor, who of nature was so mild and gentle, that either he raised up no persecution against the Christians, or else he soon stayed the same being moved; as well may appear by his letter sent down to the countries of Asia, the tenor whereof here ensueth.

    "Emperor and Cæsar, Aurelius Antoninus Augustus, Armenicus, Pontifex Maximus, tribune eleven times, consul thrice, unto the commons of Asia, greeting. I am very certain that the gods have a care of this, that they which be such shall be known, and not lie hid. For they do punish them that will not worship them more than you, which so sore vex and trouble them, confirming thereby the opinion which they have conceived and do conceive of you, that is, to be wicked men. For this is their joy and desire, that when they are accused, rather they covet to die for their God than to live. Whereby they are victors, and do overcome you; giving rather their lives than to be obedient to you, in doing that which you require of them. And here it shall not be inconvenient to advertise you of the earthquakes which have and do happen among us, that when at the sight of them you tremble and are afraid, then you may confer your case with them. For they, upon a sure confidence of their God, are bold and fearless, much more than you; who in all the time of this your ignorance both do worship other gods and neglect the religion of immortality, and such Christians as worship him, them you do drive out, and persecute them unto death. Of these and such-like matters many presidents of our provinces did write to our father of famous memory heretofore. To whom he directed his answer again, willing them in no case to molest the Christians, except they were found in some trespass prejudicial against the empire of Rome. And to me also many there be which write, signifying their mind in like manner; to whom I have answered again to the same effect and manner as my father did. Wherefore if any hereafter shall offer any vexation or trouble to such, having no other cause but only for that they are such, let him that is appeached be released and discharged free, yea, although he be found to be such, (that is, a Christian,) and let the accuser sustain the punishment," &c.

    This godly edict of the emperor was proclaimed at Ephesus, in the public assembly of all Asia; whereof Melito, also bishop of Sardis, who flourished in the same time, maketh mention in his apology written in defence of our doctrine to M. Antoninus Verus, as hereafter (Christ willing) shall appear. By this means, then, the tempest of persecution in those days began to be appeased, through the mer ciful providence of God, which would not have his church utterly to be overthrown, though hardly yet to grow.

Previous Next